The Manhattan Project in Westfield, New Jersey

by Marjorie Benedict Cohn

My parents, Marjorie Oliver Allen, Mt. Holyoke class of 1931, and Manson Benedict, Cornell class of 1929, met at M.I.T., where they were working toward their doctoral degrees. Every day my father would carry and chop fifty pounds of ice for my mother’s low temperature experiments. The romance heated up, and eventually, after marriage in 1935 and the birth of my sister and myself, in 1940 they built a modern house in Westfield, New Jersey, from which my father commuted to his job as a chemical engineer with M.W. Kellogg Company. Despite having her Ph.D. in physical chemistry (and in the family, at least, a reputation as having had the more brilliant career at M.I.T.), my mother remained at home with the toddlers and expended her very real artistic talents in sewing, knitting, and home decoration.

In 1942 Kellex, a top secret division of the Kellogg Company, was formed by the federal government to build in Oak Ridge, Tennessee what became known as the K-25 plant – K for Kellex and 25 for Uranium-235, the fissionable isotope present in less than one percent of natural uranium. With a sufficient quantity of this rare isotope, the United States could build an atomic bomb. My father, an expert in gaseous diffusion processes, designed the scientific scheme and industrial structure of the K-25 plant. He spent many weeks during the war at Oak Ridge, a muddy boomtown where he caught a life-threatening case of hepatitis from its rudimentary sewage system. When my sister and queried him, he would only say he’d gone to

We knew that Dogpatch was the home of Li’l Abner and Daisy May, and we were furious with our father for thinking that his little girls could be so easily fooled into believing that a comic strip had a real location. But he had given me the middle name Alice because he had virtually memorized Lewis Carroll’s tales; he recited “Jabberwocky” or “You Are Old, Father William” (and stood on his head) with the least provocation. In the same frame of mind, the fact that Dogpatch was the actual military code name of the nation’s secret scientific Wonderland gave comic relief to arduous trips.

My father spent his other weeks in Manhattan, the real-life headquarters of the project to build the K-25 plant, where there were never enough working hours. He brought a fat briefcase home to Westfield, and in the days before computers this meant evenings and weekends of equations worked through with a slide rule. I had inherited my mother’s talent in drawing, and I was allowed his spare pencils and discarded sheets of quadrille paper that had mumbo jumbo on the front and a blank back for my projects.

My mother was enlisted for more serious draftsmanship. The equations had to be articulated in graphs, which she, as an undergraduate summa cum laude mathematician, could easily calculate and plot. She was aided by a balky old Millionaire, acquired from her thesis advisor, Prof. George Scatchard. The Millionaire, patented in 1892 and in production until 1935, was in the words of Wikipedia, “the first commercially successful mechanical calculator that could
perform a direct multiplication.” It had hundreds upon hundreds of tiny, individually handmade, brass cogs, gears, levers, shafts, and dials. My mother took it apart, diagramming the location and position of every part. She cleaned, oiled, and reassembled it; her Millionaire, like new, worked perfectly.

Along with the calculator, my mother also had at hand French curves, compasses, triangles, rulers, protractors, a Leroy Lettering Set, bottles of India ink, and rolls of bluish linen draftsman’s cloth that she laid onto a wood board with steel thumbtacks – all off limits to my sister and me. We watched with fascination as she drew and labeled elaborate graphs and flowcharts, which were not, of course, so mysterious to her. A problem eventually occurred to my father. His solution? At the Westfield Trust Company, before a bank officer, my mother raised her right hand, swore that she was a loyal citizen of the United States of America, and acquired Top Secret clearance.

On her dining room table Marjorie Allen Benedict laid out the engineering blueprints to build the K-25 plant that would make the fuel for the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima. The midcentury modern house still standing at 465 Topping Hill Road, Westfield, New Jersey, can be thought of as the outer sanctum of the Manhattan Project.

AppleFest and Apple Pie Baking Contest - AppleFest IS Westfield!

$10.00 Apple Pie Competition Entry Fee includes: Entry to Applefest event (a $5 value), a chance to win a fabulous prize (one prize per category) AND a free slice of pie (get to taste your own or a competitors!)

Contest is for amateur bakers only! 9-10” disposable pie pans preferred (or clearly mark your heirloom pie plate!)

Pies should be room temperature (“ready to eat”) and dropped off at the Pie Competition desk between noon and 1:00pm. Judging starts at 1:00pm! Winners announced at 2:00pm from the front porch of the Reeve House.

When you drop off your pie it will be labeled and you will be asked to indicate your contact information (phone or email) and which categories your pie should be entered into (it is automatically entered into “best overall” but might also qualify for one of these):

. Best pie baked from scratch (no store bought ingredients)
. Best pie baked by a guy (from scratch or with store bought pie crust)
. Best pie baked by a child under 16 (from scratch or with store bought pie crust)
. Best “anything apple” (does not have to be a pie – but must contain apples)

Rain Day - October 23rd.

The Fine Line performs at the Westfield Historical Society

On the afternoon of Saturday June 11th from 3:00-5:00pm the Westfield Historical Society will be hosting a fun music event with a good touch of history, to be held on the lawn at the Reeve History and Cultural Resource Center (314 Mountain Avenue, Westfield). We are delighted to have Al and Efrat, from the local band The Fine Line performing "The Story of the Billboard Hot 100 in Song and Word." Their performance will trace the history of the Billboard 100 - the music industry standard for charting recorded music since the inception of the Billboard (a printing company) at the end of the nineteenth century. The band, which many of you will be familiar with from their regular Saturday evenings at 16 Prospect in downtown Westfield, will "sing" the story of Billboard through the music of some of the greatest #1 songs of all time! This includes a special treat for Westfielders as included in the line-up is “Younger Girl" - a 60s hit from "The Critters" - a local Central Jersey band with a strong Westfield connection. Come to the event to find out more! Please pre-register for this fun event by calling 908-654-1794 or by e-mail to Admission is a $5 donation to the Westfield Historical Society at the door. Light refreshments will be available for sale.

Reeve History & Cultural Resource Center - Phase II Development Plan

The Westfleld Education Center will provide a place to learn more about the historical foundations of Westfield, its people that helped develop the community into a most wonderful place to live. The Education Center will serve as a community focal point in Union County. Using its historical artifacts, documents and stories to paint the picture of life in the West Fields of Elizabethtown from its original Native American inhabitants, through its foundation as a colonial outpost of the British, to its growth as a multi-cultural community after European immigration swelled its population in the early 1900’s, the Education Center will serve as the center of the community. By unnfolding its narrative through a variety of exhibits, multi-media presentations, hands on programs and vibrant lectures and re-enactments, the History & Education Center will help animate our past and present a potential pathway to the decisions facing us in the future. Community spirit through volunteerism, religious institution community outreach and a growing and vibrant business community have always been the foundations upon which our community ranks as a leading place to settle and raise a family. 

Rooted in its history, Westfield reflects many people with many origins but a common purpose focused on community involvement where learning from the past is integral to the journey to the future. The Westfield Historical Society in its Education Center will bring to life, the narrative of its people and their activities that have made this town a focal point of life in Northern New Jersey.

Please help us by making a donation to our Educational Center fund. We need your help to make this a reality!